As a middle school teacher, you can appreciate (I hope) the fact that I generally like to avoid large groups of adolescents during my free time. So you can imagine my panic when I arrived at the gate for my Spain flight to see not one... not two... but three separate groups of middle and high school kids waiting for my very same flight. Can you feel my pain?
After calming myself down, I kicked myself for not upgrading to Business Class (what's $500, right?), or even the $87 Premiere Class option I had refused, thinking of the shoes I could buy instead. Besides, I was still counting on the Karmic fact that my years teaching gave me some special shield to steer me clear of anyone aged 12-17. Right?
As my group was called to board, I started to panic again. Last time I felt this way was during my tour of duty for 6th grade lunch. Daily chaos at its finest. There was loud talking and laughing, and I was completely surrounded - by a sea of green t-shirts (middle schoolers), a group of red t's (high school), and a group with neon yellow backpacks (mix of ages). My vision of writing and sleeping on the plane didn't look so hot. Yet, I still hoped that some airline angel would swoop me up and drop me in Business Class.
Once on the plane, I just followed the noise and chaos to my row. The good news- I had an aisle seat. Bad news... I was with the backpack crew, and had two teenage boys to my right, and a girl and her boyfriend to my left. Ahead of me was a group of four boys, also part of my new amigos' group, and I'd later learn that the other members of the backpack crew were all close by. I was in for it.
However, as I small-talked with the girl next to me, I started to soften a bit. She told me that her group was from all over Spain and they had just spent a month in Chicago. Apparently, they had "an amazing, wonderful time." She beamed when she said it, making me feel like a big jerk for not wanting to be anywhere near their group. She also told me that prior to their trip, no one had known each other. I could clearly see this wasn't the case now, as various neon backpacked kids would pop up all throughout our area, and shout things to my new friend and her boyfriend. There was an energy of connectedness buzzing throughout this group of kids, and I could tell they were holding on to each minute of this 7 hour flight, as it would be their last time all together.
So again, I told my self to just chill out and let these kids enjoy their last hours together. Plus, I was kind of banking on the fact that they'd at least sleep a little during the flight. Teenagers sleep all the time, right? Not these kids. And not the green shirted kids or the red t's. (I didn't forget about them- they were taking up the rows in front and behind the backpacks.) Basically, every student tour group in Spain was within earshot. During the course of the flight, these kids talked, got up, sat on each other's laps, signed American flags, took bites of each other's food, and generally carried on like they were at a party, not on a plane. The flight attendants would send them back to their seats and make angry (or maybe I'm projecting) messages over the intercom, "all passengers must return to their seats and buckle up." But, basically, the kids acted like kids, and didn't listen. As a special bonus, my new friend and her boyfriend were making out for two-thirds of the flight. Apparently being flanked by myself and another adult on the end of our row didn't phase them. Meanwhile, the two kids to my right were suddenly the most popular kids on the plane, as evidenced by the entourage of kids stopping by to say hola or ask for a Chupa Pop. It was a zoo.
Shutting my eyes and listening to music helped a little, and I thought about "telling on them" to the flight attendant. But with so many of them, it seemed like a lost cause. It was actually like the worst lunch duty known to man, extended for 8 hours, all while my body was going through a time change.
Good clean fun, in other words.
Which actually is the reason why I couldn't get mad at any of these kids. Not only was it essentially good clean fun (granted fun that annoyed the hell out of every adult on that air bus), but this was different. I was witnessing these kids experience a time-capsule moment, that is, a moment that they'll only experience this one time, and few things will ever be as impactful or as important as it. These kids were oblivious to everyone else on the plane because of course they were busy being teens, but mainly because they were in the middle of such a moment. I could literally feel the kids trying to squeak out every last bit of goodness the experience had to offer them. What makes this experience even more significant is that I'd say most if not all of these kids really don't yet understand how truly special and unique these moments are.
As adults, we're more sentimental towards moments because we've seen them come and go, and often only appreciate them after. If we do appreciate them during, it can be with a certain bittersweet nostalgia, knowing they'll be difficult if not impossible to repeat. These kids were too young to even grasp part of this concept. They probably didn't go into this trip thinking they'd form a deep bond with these other kids- they probably went in wanting to see the US and maybe bring back some new Nikes or an Ipad. They also probably went in a little freaked out and scared about how they'd do. But it was clear that everything had turned out okay. What was happening on that flight was a culmination of the trip they just experienced and the trip ending, making for one of the time capsule moments of their life.
Watching this moment unfold (in this light, versus my annoyed teacher mode) made me think of the reason for my trip. I'm on my way to an eight day Spanish immersion, similar to English immersion trips I've taken for several summers. The Spanish part is new for me, and I'm experiencing the same fears and doubts I did before I did my first trip in 2012. Then, I wondered, "What am I doing?" "Who am I going to meet during this trip?" "Will I hate it?" "Why am I doing this, anyway?" Well, it turned out that 2012 trip changed my life, and introduced me to wonderful people who are now like family to me. It also opened my eyes to ideas and places I knew nothing about prior.
Now I know my upcoming trip will never be like that first trip in 2012, but I do know it'll be significant. My goal is to appreciate each moment as the week unfolds, realizing that really every day of our lives is a type of time-capsule moment. Some are greater than others, and it's when we step outside of our fears and try new things that we get the opportunities to experience them. It's these experiences that make us grow and change.
My question for you is this...what have you been wanting to step out of your comfort zone and try? If those crazy kids could do it... you can too. So go ahead and take a leap. See what happens. Just keep it down on your way back... some people may be trying to sleep.